Not going to get into the politics behind Bernie’s closing, you can read about it here. I will say that it’s been a long time since I’ve ventured down the stairs to take in a show (I think the last time I was there was to see The Dollyrots in 2008), the club went through ups-and-downs in terms of booking touring acts and there hasn’t been anything there in a long, long time that I felt compelled to check out.
The historical relevance the club had in Columbus can’t be ignored. I’ve seen people say it’s the CBGBs of Columbus and, if by that you mean it was dirty, had terrible bathrooms, and would book any punk rock band looking for a stage with no promise of being paid at the end of the night, then, yeah, I guess it was. So many local bands got their start at the small stage before earning their stripes and being offered a show on a larger stage. And, anybody who spent any amount of time there surely has a story about a band who played a show that can never be forgotten.
Here are my top Bernie’s memories – the good, the bad, the ugly:
Seeing young bands that would go on to play much larger venues – Many touring bands paid their dues by playing Bernie’s before taking the next step to Stache’s/Little Brothers or, if they managed an MTV hit, the Newport. Among the bands I had the chance to see that would later go on to play in front of thousands on a nightly basis, the ones that stick out are: Jimmy Eat World (who played a shortened set due to Jim Adkins’ guitar strings breaking), Death Cab for Cutie (the nicest, most polite band I’ve ever seen), Beck (yes, I was there) and Rilo Kiley (Jenny Lewis was adorable).
Seeing young bands that would go on to play slightly larger venues – Not many bands that played at Bernie’s went on to sold-out shows at the LC. But, it still was great to see touring bands like The Dismemberment Plan, Pedro the Lion, Mary Lou Lord, Helicopter Helicopter, The Sheila Divine, Ultimate Fakebook, The Dollyrots and Cerulean play the tiny Bernie’s stage.
Booking a few relatively successful – and one majorly unsuccessful – shows – When my old site (Swizzle-Stick) was in full swing, I developed a working relationship with Bernie’s and was occasionally able to secure a night at the venue for touring bands who wanted to play Columbus. My two favorites were the Puller (ex-For Love Not Lisa), Made to Fade (Chicago band featuring Mike Willison of Fig Dish) and Our Flesh Party (local band that would go on to become The Evil Queens) triple bill and the Sunday’s Best / Onelinedrawing (Jonah from Far) / Didi Mao (local rock heroes) bill that Seattle band Juno was supposed to be on before calling to tell me they weren’t happy with the lack of promotion I was doing (they claim to have stopped through Columbus while on tour and not seen any flyers or posters even though I stapled them on every telephone pole up and down High Street as well as hanging posters in all the record stores). I had a terrible booking experience with a Christian space-rock band called Denison Marrs whose label I was doing a favor for. These guys were doing a tour playing youth centers (ie – they had nice guarantees and built-in crowds) and were looking to fill in an off day. Turns out it was Super Bowl Sunday AND we had just had an ice storm in Columbus which meant 5 paying customers came to the show. The tour manager tried to strong arm me into paying for the sound guy ($100) which I refused to do as I was not the promoter, just a guy trying to help a touring band out. That was the last show I ever helped out with at Bernie’s.
Interviewing bands for MOO Magazine, Swizzle-Stick and Donewaiting.com – The restaurant side of Bernie’s allowed for some great interviews to take place including Hayden (who I took there for sandwiches prior to his gig at Stache’s), Death Cab for Cutie, Damien Jurado, The Promise Ring, The Sheila Divine and The Fly Seville.
I was a Journalism major at OSU and anybody who knows anything about Journalism majors is that we hate math. Bernie’s math never quite made sense to me. I’m not accusing anybody of shenanigans but there were a few times where I witnessed decent-sized crowds, all of whom paid a cover, but skimpy payouts to the band at the end of the night. I think the worst I ever saw (and I’m sure there are lots of other stories out there) was when Alien Crime Syndicate (a Seattle band featuring former Meices singer Joe Reineke) opened for The Figgs and was handed a $5 bill after they were done performing. The door guy said, “This is all there is for you. The Figgs had a big guarantee.” That certainly could have been the case, but the whole situation felt weird and not quite on the up-and-up.